Wednesday, July 09, 2008


The past four years of my life have probably been my most emotionally intense years in this world so far. I've fallen in love a total of four times. I've pursued two of those relationships. One ended in heartbreak; one ended in friendship. The other two ultimately became my dearest friends. During all of this, during the good times and the bad, during the joy and the heartbreak, I've done a lot of thinking about love and what it really means.

I've always known that love is simpler than people make it out to be. Whenever I talk to people about love, there's one concept I consistently encounter: "Different kinds of love." People talk about how the love you feel for a lover is not the same feeling as the feeling you feel for a friend or a family member.

I don't believe that. I believe that love, as a feeling, remains the same regardless who you're feeling it for. It's not the feeling that's different; it's how you express it that varies. When you take away sexuality entirely, one's feelings for people one is "in love" with, for people who are "friends" and for family are identical. "Love" is something entirely separate from sexuality; love, as a feeling and concept, would exist with or without sexuality.

To understand this, it's helpful to understand the relationship between language and thought:

When two people converse speaking a language fluently, it's easy to think that the words themselves are thoughts and feelings. If you're fluent in English then English is so ingrained in you as a method of expression that, as you read this, it probably feels to you as if these words are my very thoughts themselves. The language and the thoughts are so closely related that it's hard to separate the two.

However, words are not thoughts; they are merely a vehicle by which thought and feeling are expressed. If words were actually pure thought, then you should know what I'm trying to say when I write "jIwuQ." However, I'll bet you dollars to donuts you have no idea what that means (I deliberately picked a language here very few people would know to clarify my point). OK, how about this one? "J'ai un mal de tête." Or this? "Tengo un dolor de cabeza."

"jIwuQ," "J'ai un mal de tête" and "Tengo un dolor de cabeza" actually all say exactly the same thing in three different languages. The first is Klingon; the second is French; the third is Spanish. Yet, all three sentences express exactly the same thought: "I have a headache."

The most basic definition of "language" is: "Any means of conveying or communicating ideas." A "means" of conveying or communicating ideas. Language is not idea itself, as much as it sometimes may seem to be; if it were, all the misunderstandings we suffer because of our unique points of view wouldn't happen. If our words were our thoughts themselves, our words should carry the meaning of our thoughts across perfectly but they don't; not always.

It is in the definition of language that my ideas on love become clear: love and sex are related in the same way thought and language are. Love is an idea, a feeling a concept; sex is a language.

This distinction is critically important, because it means that there is no such thing as "different kinds of love." Love, as a feeling, is totally independent of its expression, just like all feelings and concepts are. Like all concepts, love can be expressed in a myriad of different ways. Just off the top of my head, I can think of several ways to express love for someone: a smile, a hug, a gift, a kiss, a poem, or even by simply saying "I love you."

To me, sex is only another language by which love can be expressed. Sex is capable of fully expressing only two concepts: love and lust. However, the fact that sex can be used to express any concept qualifies it, by my definition, as a language, albeit a very limited one.

People tend to think of love and sex as being the same thing because sex, by its nature, is one of the most "fluent" languages by which one can express love. The expression of love through sex is such a profound experience that, when in the midst of a loving sexual act, the lines between the physical act and the emotion blur. However, like any fluent language, sex is still a separate thing from the love it expresses; the love itself would exist with or without it.

Upon realizing that, I came to define love as "friendship expressed through sexuality." In other words, my "formula" for "romantic love" has always been: friendship + attraction = romantic love. When I first came to that realization, I thought I had all the answers. I thought I knew exactly what love was and how to make it happen. That's why, when I realized what was happening between Riin and I, I pursued it, secure in the knowledge that it was "true love."

However, after my breakup with Riin, and in observing the dynamics of other relationships among the people in my life, I began to realize that the picture wasn't complete. While I'd never seen a couple "in love" whose relationship didn't rest on a firm basis of friendship, I had seen people who were friends who were attracted to each other yet did not "fall in love." That's where the paradigm broke down: if I was right, they should have fallen in love but they didn't.

So now I'm confused. There must be a missing part of the "formula" for romantic love... but what?

When I thought about it for a while, I realized that the key to this understanding lay in my relationship with Lisa. I used to be in love with Lisa; I no longer am. Why? I do still think Lisa is beautiful; I do still consider her a friend. In theory, I should still be in love with Lisa, but I'm not.

So I knew, whatever the "missing link" was, it was something that changed between Lisa and I. The question was: what changed?

Today, I wasn't really thinking about it consciously, but it was in the back of my mind all morning. Then, just as I got back from lunch, my mind was drifting and I was thinking about things Lisa has done that have hurt me over the years. One of the things about Lisa that's always troubled me was her inability to keep a promise. I thought to myself, "Lisa's just like that; you can't trust her to keep a promise."

I literally stopped in mid step when I hit the word "trust." It's like a light bulb went on: that's the missing link.

So I thought back again to my feelings for Lisa. Am I attracted to her? Yes. Do I consider her a friend? Yes. Do I trust her? No.

Lisa has lied to me over and over and over again and, although she's more honest now than she used to be, I still find myself wondering every time she speaks, "Is this the truth?" I'm never absolutely sure. When I thought further about that, I realized that's also why I no longer want to express my love for her physically.

To me, physical intimacy one of the most profound acts of trust one Human being can entrust to another. If I cannot trust Lisa, then I cannot be comfortable being intimate with her at that level. That's why I no longer want to express my love for her that way: I no longer feel comfortable enough with her because I cannot trust her enough to be that vulnerable to her.

After all the lies over all the years, I'll probably never again be able to trust Lisa deeply enough to express my love for her that way again. I know she capable of lying, and I know she will lie again if it serves her purposes. One cannot be in love with someone they cannot trust because, to be in love, one must be willing to lower all personal barriers; you can only do that with someone you trust implicitly.

That also explains why (I'm forced to admit, despite everything) I still love Riin. I don't trust her judgment, but I do trust her intentions. She has never lied to me or violated my trust. So, with her, I still have a feeling of friendship, attraction and trust; the love remains. This also explains why Riin fell out of love with me. She sent the police twice; you don't do that to someone you trust. If she lost her trust in me, then her love for me died with it.

Then I started looking at the other women I've fallen in love with in my life and asked myself if trust was a common factor. Sure enough, it was; each woman I've ever felt this way for is also a woman I trust implicitly.

So. True romantic love has not two, but three components: friendship + attraction + trust = romantic love. It's when all three of these feelings arrive together for the same person that the feeling of "romantic love" happens.

In order to truly love, you have to find someone you can trust with everything that you are, and who trusts you just as implicitly. Trust deep enough to ignite love happens only between people who have never betrayed each other. Ever.

Until now, I've never believed it's possible to "fall out of love" because I've always viewed romantic love's two components of attraction and friendship to be virtually indestructible. However, now that I know trust is part of the formula, too, I understand: trust is fragile; once it's destroyed it's difficult, and sometimes impossible, to get back.

Riin said she wasn't in love with me anymore. I never believed her but now I realize she was right after all. I thought she was still in love with me but was fighting it; in reality, even if she did still love me, she was no longer in love with me simply because, for whatever reason, she lost her trust in me.

Maybe that, at least subconsciously, is why I fought her so hard on it. If Riin doesn't trust me, there has to be something I did that she misunderstood. I have never lied to her; I have never betrayed her trust (publishing pieces of her personal E-mail notwithstanding; I honestly didn't realize she would mind that and I took it down the moment I realized she did, so it wasn't a deliberate violation). I guess I just wanted, even needed to know why she stopped trusting me.

If only I'd understood then what I understand now, I probably would have given Riin more space instead of pushing so hard to talk to her. In pushing as hard as I did, I only amplified her mistrust. The fact is, there may not have been anything I could have done to begin restoring her trust in me but, if there was anything I could have done, it wasn't what I did, that's certain.

At least I came away from the experience understanding love's greatest vulnerability: trust. Maybe knowing that will help me not to make the same mistakes I did with Riin the next time I find myself in a relationship.

Of course, I'm not sure I ever will be in another relationship. Right now, there are only two other women I feel that way for, and neither has any potential for a romantic relationship. I'm still too emotionally raw to try to develop any new friendships, so I'm not likely to develop feelings for anyone else, either.

Maybe that's for the best. All four of these friendships were more important to me than anything else in the world. Of the two I pursued romantically, one relationship was destroyed, the other damaged. I'm not looking to marry; I don't want children. Maybe it's not worth the risk.

I'd rather keep the friendships I have, and the love I have with them, than risk them only so I can have one more language to tell them how much I love them.

On July 12, 2008 10:10:46 AM ADT, Tom Frost Jr. wrote:
A fourth requirement might be having something significant in common with the person. But what that thing in common must be is tricky, as the following story illustrates.

I started out thinking that as the most basic requirement, she must be a cyclist. So, when I started attending bike rallies 20 years ago . . . I always thought that that would be where I'd meet the appropriate lady.

But I never did! It turns out - and it finally became particularly obvious when I got on the internet several years ago - that just because somebody's a cyclist does not mean that they have an iota in common with me!
That's very true. If you ask me, I think it's because cyclists, particularly serious cyclists, tend to be unusual people in some way. By the very definition of the word, someone who is "unusual" will tend not to have traits in common with many people, and that can include fellow cyclists.

There are many women who are members of Velo Cape Breton, for example, and I find many of them very attractive, but I have yet to find one I have enough in common with to get close enough to to build the kind of intimate friendship that a romantic relationship would require. They're all nice ladies and good friends, don't get me wrong; it's just that most of them would probably find me boring as dust if they spent too much time in my company. ;)
Yesterday I learned, in my usual weekly e-mail exchange with the paper girl that I boasted to you about meeting last year, that she's not a cyclist and has no interest in becoming one (despite her apparent ample respect for my being one . . . ).

However, one of the things that this paper girl does have in common with me is that we both bash people who think that they're better than somebody else.
Attitudes like that are a pet peeve of mine as well, which probably explains in part why you and I get along so well. :)
Do I want to be like certain people who, throughout my whole life, have insinuated that my choice to be a cyclist is a "problem" that needs to be "corrected"? No!
This is also one of the reasons why I don't get along with my mother as well as I'd like to. Although she'd never admit it if you asked her to her face, she does think my choice to be a cyclist is "a 'problem' that needs to be 'corrected.'" We've had more than one argument in which she went on a tangent about how I should get a car because "everybody needs a car" etc. Oh bull! I can get around just fine without one, thank you very much.

Actually, cycling isn't the only thing she's done this with, either. When I first started losing my hair, she kept treating my hair loss as "a 'problem' that needs to be 'corrected'" despite my repeated insistence that it didn't bother me. I was still really big into Star Trek at the time (I still like it but I'm not as consumed with it today as I was back then); between Captain Picard, The Doctor and Sisko, it didn't seem to me that baldness was such a big deal... ;)

That's mom; if she thinks anyone has an idea that she thinks isn't "normal," she will always treat it as "a 'problem' that needs to be 'corrected.'" Granted, she means well, but she doesn't realize that not everyone wants to be "fixed."

Of course the greatest irony is, if she thinks you need "fixing," she'll arrive with her tool belt on, but Lord help you if you try to "fix" her; she takes profound offense to the idea of anyone telling her how to run her life. The idea that other people might feel the same way about her attempt to "fix" them, for some reason, just doesn't occur to her. Then again, she's never been particularly good at the art of putting herself in others' shoes... ;)

All that being said, I love my mom dearly. She's always been there for me when I needed her, and I've always appreciated that. Her heart's in the right place; it's just that she cannot seem to grasp the idea that there are other ways of doing things besides her own.
Not trying to change each other is the most basic "thing in common" that I want to have with somebody who has already met the first three requirements that you cite . . .
You make an excellent point. While I don't think that "not trying to change each other" is necessarily a component of the feeling of romantic love, I absolutely agree that it is a component of a successful long term relationship. Actually, I think this is a component of the "trust" aspect; you have to be able to trust that this other person loves you even if they don't necessarily agree with you on everything.

You know, I think this is where Riin and I fell off the rails. We loved each other deeply and, in the beginning, we trusted each other implicitly. However, as time went on, Riin kept trying to change me. She wanted me to stop drinking (she didn't even want me drinking at reasonable levels); she wanted me to be a vegetarian; she wanted me to be totally non-violent (she was uncomfortable with how I'd enjoy a good movie fistfight or WWE match).

Because Riin was always trying to change me, I found myself trying to change her. I tried to make her a faster cyclist; I tried to convert her to drop bars; I tried to convert her into a Star Trek fan. I don't usually do that to people but, in Riin's case, I couldn't help thinking, Well, she wants me to change stuff; it's only fair that she change some things for me, too.

I think that might be why she eventually stopped trusting me, particularly when she tried to get me to stop drinking. I tried; I really did. I failed. I think she viewed that as a lie, a promise I broke. It was probably the only promise I ever made to her (or anyone) that I've ever failed to live up to.

Riin's never had an addiction. If only she had, maybe she would have been able to understand what I was going through. I was not lying to her. I did mean what I was saying; I had every intention of keeping my promise. I just couldn't. Even I was taken off guard by the power of addiction because drinking is the only thing I have ever been addicted to; trying to quit was my first experience with trying to break an addiction; I simply wasn't prepared for the power of it.

Regardless, if Riin and I had only been willing to accept each other as we are, maybe we would still be together today. But Riin kept trying to change me; that made me feel like I had to change her to "even the score," so to speak. Eventually, this wiped out her trust in me. Unfortunately, I never lost my trust in her so she lost her love for me and I didn't lose my love for her; that left me holding the proverbial bag, which is why the breakup hurt me so much.

That's probably also why those two remaining friendships mentioned above still work so well. I accept them both as they are and, in fact, would not want to change them; I love them both just the way they are.

If I ever am in another romantic relationship some day, I'm going to keep that lesson close to my heart; maybe that way, even if the relationship fails, I won't lose the friendship it was built on like I did with Riin.

On July 25, 2008 7:59:24 PM ADT, Anonymous wrote:
Why do you refer to the troll as she? Could it be a he?
No. I know who the troll is; I just can't prove it.